Hebrews 2:1-18

Submitted by admin on Mon, 2010-05-17 13:09.

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God had spoken “in” his Son, conveying his word or message through him, and the Son occupies a position far superior to that of the angels. Therefore, the Hebrew believers (and, in fact, all believers) needed to give close attention (prosécho) to the things they had heard to avoid drifting away from the word, failing to live in harmony with it. According to another possible meaning of prosécho, they should keep fast hold on what they had heard, which significance would then be a contrasting parallel to drifting away. (2:1)

Failure to continue to act in harmony with the word God spoke through his Son has very serious consequences. His word spoken “through angels” proved to be firm (bébaios), and every transgression and act of disobedience received its just payment. The Greek term bébaios can apply to something that is firm, in force, valid, unchangeable, or reliable. In this context, the word appears to denote that which is firm, inviolable, or not subject to being altered. The word God spoke through angels refers to the law that was given to the Israelites at Mount Sinai. (Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19) In Deuteronomy 33:2, the link to angels is implied. According to the Septuagint, God came from Sinai and angels were with him. (2:2)

The law given to the Israelites included penalties (or just payment) for failure to obey it. If, for example, a man stole a bull or a sheep and slaughtered the animal, he had to make compensation with five bulls for the bull, and four sheep for the sheep. The thief who was found with the live animal had to make double compensation, for he had not destroyed the evidence of his theft. When unable to make the required compensation, the thief would be sold to work off the payment for his crime. (Exodus 22:1-4)

In view of what was true of the word spoken through angels, how could believers expect to escape from punishment for neglecting the “great salvation,” turning away from the divine arrangement for having their sins forgiven and being saved or delivered from the condemnation to which sin leads? This salvation is not insignificant. It is great, and calls for a continued appreciative response and a life that harmonizes with it. (2:3)

The message of salvation was first declared “through the Lord,” for the Son of God revealed his role in how forgiveness of sins and an approved standing with his Father would be made possible. (John 6:29-40; 8:34-36; 10:14, 15, 27, 28) Those who heard what Jesus said and responded in faith attested (bebaióo, make firm) to all that had been imparted to them, making the message known to persons who had not personally heard it. To the testimony of those who heard Jesus, God added his own confirmatory witness, empowering the ones who declared the word about salvation with signs (semeíon), wonders (téras), various works of power, and “distributions of holy spirit according to his will.” (2:3, 4)

Miracles constituted God’s confirmatory testimony. The Greek word semeíon here may be understood to designate a miracle that serves to convey something of special significance, which, in this case, would be that God is its source. A wonder or portent (téras) is a miracle that caused wonderment or amazement, prompting observers to give attention to what the significance of the miracle might be. When, for example, Peter healed a man who had been lame from birth, the people who saw the man afterward walking in the temple area and praising God were astonished. Their amazement provided the opportunity for Peter to explain the significance of the miracle as it related to Christ. (Acts 3:1-26) “Works of power” made the power of God evident. Raising the dead and expelling demons proved to be such mighty works. The “distributions of holy spirit” evidently refer to the varied gifts of the spirit that God apportioned to individual believers according to his will or choice. (2:4; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11)

The “world to come” appears to identify what is also referred to in the sacred writings as “new heavens and a new earth,” which expression designates a renewed world under the administration of Jesus Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords. (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 20:11; 21:1-4) As the writer of Hebrews expressed it, the world to come of which he (literally, the editorial “we”) spoke has not been subjected to angels. (2:5)

To establish this point, the writer referred to certain testimony but did not say just where it could be found. (2:6) He then quoted from Psalm 8:4-6(5-7), and his quotation is the same as the extant text of the Septuagint. Not all manuscripts of the book of Hebrews, however, include the words, “and placed him over the works of your hands.” (2:7)

According to the superscription, Psalm 8 is linked to David and can be understood as it related to him. When viewing the night sky, the psalmist was filled with awe by what he recognized as being the works of God’s “fingers.” He marveled about the way in which the moon and stars were set in place. The vastness and wonder of what he saw made him reflect on how insignificant man appeared to be. He pondered how it was possible for the Creator of everything to take note of man and to care for him, evidently with reference to enabling him to have all the essentials for life. In relation to the earthly creation, man was superior. On account of his unique status, man was just a little less than the angels. In his exalted state in relation to the earthly creation, man was crowned with glory or dignity and honor. He had been placed in the position of ruler over all God’s earthly creation (“the works of [God’s] hands”). Everything was under his control, under his feet. (Psalm 8:3-6[4-7]) On earth, Jesus Christ was a man and, as such, a little lower than the angels. Therefore, in him as a man in the noblest sense of the word, the expressions of the psalmist found their fullest realization. (2:6-8)

God subjected all things to his Son, leaving nothing that is not subject to him. The writer of Hebrews, however, acknowledged, “We do not yet see all things in subjection to him.” For the most part, humans continued to be in a state of alienation from God and under the control of the powers of darkness. Sin and death had not been eradicated. (2:8; 1 Corinthians 15:25, 26; 1 John 5:19)

Believers, however, did see Jesus, “who had been made a little lower than angels, crowned with glory and honor because of having suffered death.” His resurrection, ascension to heaven, and the pouring out of the holy spirit he had received from his Father established that he had been highly exalted. (Acts 2:32-36) Although believers did not yet see everything subject to Jesus Christ, they did see the evidence that he had been “crowned with glory and honor.” By God’s gracious “favor,” he tasted or experienced death for everyone. The Father, in expression of his gracious favor or unmerited kindness, sent his Son to the earth so that he might lay down his life. This opened up the opportunity for humans to become God’s approved children by responding in faith to his provision for having their sins forgiven. In submission to his Father’s will, Jesus Christ willingly suffered death for all humans. For this reason he was crowned with “glory and honor,” being granted the magnificence or splendor and the unparalleled dignity of King of kings and Lord of lords. (2:9)

The one “for whom all things” exist and “through whom all things” came into being is the Father. Ultimately, all creation exists for his will and purpose and came into being through him as the Creator. To the Father, it was fitting to perfect the “chief leader of salvation” through sufferings. The Son is the “chief leader of salvation,” he being the one who leads believers to their final salvation or to the complete liberation from sin as flawless children of his Father. Jesus Christ’s sufferings culminated in his agonizing death by crucifixion. The intense sufferings that terminated in his death perfected him for the role of “chief leader of salvation,” for his sacrificial death proved to be the means for effecting the deliverance of humans from sin. Moreover, the sufferings Jesus endured fitted him for his divinely assigned role in relation to humans. These sufferings made it possible for him to fully understand the plight of sinful humans and to look upon them with deep compassion. So the sufferings of the Christ have served as the means by which the Father has brought “many sons to glory.” All who respond in faith to Christ’s having suffered and died for them gain forgiveness of sins and finally attain the ultimate glory or magnificence of being sinless sons or children of God. (2:10)

Jesus Christ is the one who sanctifies or makes believers holy, clean, or pure. They are the sanctified ones by reason of their having been forgiven of their sins. With apparent reference to their sonship, Jesus Christ (as the unique Son of God) and believers (as fellow sons of God) are “all from one,” having God as their Father. The basis on which Jesus Christ is his Father’s unique Son differs markedly from how sinful humans come to be sons. Nevertheless, Jesus Christ is not ashamed to “call” or to acknowledge believers as his “brothers,” identifying himself as a member of the same family. (2:11)

This acknowledgment is expressed in the quotation from Psalm 21(22):22(23), “I will declare [I will relate, LXX] your name to my brothers; in the middle of the congregation, I will sing praise to you.” Jesus Christ did declare the name of his Father to his brothers, revealing the person of his Father to them by faultlessly reflecting his image in every aspect of his life and ministry. He also taught the things he had heard from his Father. (John 7:16, 17; 17:6) Publicly, in the congregation, Jesus Christ praised God. Rightly, then, the words of the psalmist can be applied to the Son. (2:12)

Two other quotations highlight aspects about Christ’s sonship and the manner in which he views his “brothers.” Although the word order of the extant Septuagint text differs from that in verse 13, the meaning is same. “I will trust in him.” In being like his brothers, Jesus put his trust in God. Even the unbelieving taunters at the crucifixion site said that Jesus had placed his trust in God. (2:13; Matthew 27:43)

The Son regarded believers as his Father’s gifts to him and affectionately referred to his disciples as children. (John 13:33; 17:6; 21:5) Therefore, the words of Isaiah 8:18 represent the words of Jesus Christ, “Look! I and the children whom God as given me.” Just as the prophet Isaiah appreciated his children as God’s gifts to him, so Jesus valued those who were as children to him and who were likewise his Father’s gifts. (2:13)

Those who come to be “children” are humans, sharing the characteristic flesh and blood of humans. Upon coming to the earth, Jesus Christ became like them, for he shared the nature of flesh and blood with them. As a mortal of flesh and blood, Jesus was able to sacrifice his life and, “through his death,” deprive of strength “the one having the power of death. This [one] is the devil.” (2:14)

The designation “devil” identifies him as a slanderer. He slandered God and made it appear that acting contrary to God’s way would prove to be a means for desirable gain. In this manner, the devil introduced sin to the first humans and the accompanying penalty death. Accordingly, through sin, the devil has the power of death. Jesus Christ, “through his death,” defeated sin and negated the devil’s power of death. The forgiveness of sins made possible through Jesus’ surrender of his life also assured resurrection for all believers and their attaining life in the sinless state for all eternity. (2:14; see the Notes section.)

Through his death, Jesus provided the basis for freeing humans who had been held in slavery throughout their lives to the fear of death. Without the firm assurance of future life that Jesus’ death and resurrection made possible, humans were held in slavery to the fear of death, conducting their affairs of life as persons without hope and without a sense of future accountability for their actions. Moreover, their fear of death could be exploited, making them do shocking deeds that they would not otherwise even have thought of carrying out. The feeling that the present life is all there is or ever will be contributes to the pursuit of self-interest and pleasures without any consideration being given to the resultant hurtful effects on others. Individuals in positions of power have been able to get their subordinates to commit terrible atrocities so as not to have their life come to a violent end. Whether directly perceived or not, the fear of death has been an enslaving power. It has forced individuals to make choices that they, as persons without this fear, would simply not have made. (2:15; see the Notes section.)

In the context of the surrender of his life, Jesus Christ did not come to aid angels but to help the “seed of Abraham.” All who manifest the kind of faith Abraham had, putting their trust in the Son of God and what he accomplished by laying down his life, are the true seed of Abraham. What distinguished Abraham from his contemporaries was his faith, and so his seed or offspring must likewise be persons of unwavering faith. (Compare John 8:39-41; Romans 4:11, 12; 9:7, 8; Galatians 3:7-9.) In his capacity as the “leader of salvation,” Jesus Christ continues to aid all who are part of the “seed” of Abraham to attain the fullness of the real life in the sinless state that his sacrificial death made possible. (2:16)

In view of his role in assisting Abraham’s seed, the Son had to become “like his brothers in all respects.” He had to become a human and share in the suffering that had become the lot of sinful humans. This experience served to equip him to function as a “merciful and faithful high priest” in matters relating to God, making expiation for “the sins of the people.” Jesus Christ fully understands the human condition and the difficulties sinful humans face. Therefore, he can respond mercifully or compassionately as one who experienced trials and sufferings. As a faithful high priest, he is absolutely trustworthy or dependable, never deviating from expressing mercy toward those who prove themselves to be children of Abraham. To make expiation or atonement for their sins, Jesus Christ surrendered his life for the people, which was an act of matchless love and compassion. This assures that he will continue to be loving and merciful, helping all who have responded to him in faith. (2:17)

While on earth, Jesus Christ was put to the test, with the powers of darkness and faithless humans aligned against him. While thus tested, he suffered. Knowing what testing under suffering entails, Jesus Christ is able to aid believers who are subjected to testing. Unlike humans who may fail to endure a trial to the ultimate end, the Son of God flawlessly maintained faithfulness to the very finish. Consequently, he knows from experience how strong or intense the pressure can be and so is also aware of the kind of aid those being tested need. As the merciful and faithful high priest, he will respond accordingly. No sinful human could possibly have the kind of sympathy that the Son of God has, for a sinner fails under the strain of the test and never experiences its full intensity. (2:18)

Notes:

The Book of Wisdom, thought to have been written in the first century BCE also presents the devil as responsible for death. “By the envy of the devil, death entered the world.” (Wisdom 2:24)

The second chapter of the Book of Wisdom additionally expresses the reasoning of those who live lawlessly because of believing that the present life is all there is, with no future accountability. “Our dying cannot be deferred because it is fixed with a seal; and no one returns. Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that are real, and use the freshness of creation avidly. Let us have our fill of costly wine and perfumes, and let no springtime blossom pass us by; let us crown ourselves with rosebuds ere they wither. Let no meadow be free from our wantonness; everywhere let us leave tokens of our rejoicing, for this our portion is, and this our lot. Let us oppress the needy just man; let us neither spare the widow nor revere the old man for his hair grown white with time. But let our strength be our norm of justice; for weakness proves itself useless. Let us best the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training.” (Wisdom 2:5-12, NAB)